Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Abortion rights and quality of life

The other day, I blogged Richard Posner's blog post about his views on the state of conservatism. Since then, he followed up to respond to the hundreds of comments his post received. He said the comments suggest that "global warming, abortion, and guns, in approximately that order, arouse particular emotions among many passionate self-described conservatives."

He added: "About abortion, my personal position is the same as [Gary] Becker's" (referring to the other half of the Becker-Posner blog). So, what is Becker's position on abortion? He says:

[T]here is an obvious conflict between the rights of women to control their bodies and their motherhood, and the rights of fetuses that might be far enough along in their development to be considered human beings. This is a very prominent example of the general difficulty of determining where to draw the line when the rights of children conflict with the rights of their parents. I do not claim to have a definitive resolution of this conflict in the case of abortion, or in some other parent-child conflicts. But I come down on the side of women's rights to make decisions about their body, except in very late term abortions where fetuses can survive outside a woman's body, and therefore can be considered real children.

Abortions often allow women to have children at later dates when they are better prepared emotionally and in other ways to have children. In effect, abortions in these cases would allow women to substitute children who would be born later, and would be better taken care of, for the fetuses that are aborted now. That seems to me to be a tradeoff worth making. Moreover, laws banning abortion would be difficult to enforce against wealthy women since they would be able to get abortions illegally under reasonably good conditions, including by going abroad. Poor women who want abortions would suffer the most from enforcement of an anti-abortion law, as they are the ones who mainly suffer from laws against the use of drugs and many other types of laws.
"Bissage," a commenter on my mom's blog, said this on Mother's Day:
Maybe later today I’ll see a young mother out with her children and I’ll smile as I approach her and then I’ll say, "Your children are very beautiful. Thank you for not aborting them."
I responded:
Wait, how do you know the random mother you see on the street didn't have an abortion before having her child? If so, then the child wouldn't exist if not for that abortion. So, in that case, you'd need to thank her for getting an abortion.
Bissage's comment — conjuring up lovely, happy children who stroll along with their mother and brighten the day of a passerby — also reminded me of an experience my girlfriend Danielle and I had last weekend.

We were walking down Lark Street and passed by someone holding up an enormous sign with a gruesome image supposedly showing an aborted fetus, blown up to the size of an adult. (I say "supposedly" because propaganda photographs in this age of Photoshop generally shouldn't be trusted. Oh, I'm sure aborted fetuses look repulsive -- I'm sure many medical procedures look repulsive. But the photo on the sign may have been artificially bloodied up or who-knows-what.)

We talked about how much we resent the fact that this protester is trying to undermine society's most minimal standards of civility. But we have to accept his freedom of speech.

Just a few minutes later, walking down a different street, we saw a woman and a very young child -- probably just 3 or 4 years old — sitting on a bench. No one else seemed to be nearby, and we were far enough away that the woman might not have seen us for a while. I saw the child drop what looked like a plastic cup, and I saw his mother angrily scolding him. I didn't see what came next because I had instinctively glanced away from the unpleasant scene, but Danielle was still watching. Afterwards, she told me she saw the mother hit the child as punishment for dropping the cup.

Although only Danielle saw that particular moment, both of us saw the mother's contemptuous manner of interacting with her child. It was unmistakable just from that fleeting public incident seen from a distance; who knows how much worse it gets in private, lived up close, day after day? What are the ultimate consequences of this, not just to the boy but to society?

We were convinced that the mother didn't want her child. You can moralize all you want about how pregnant women should give up for adoption any children they don't want, but nothing you or I can say will change the reality of what's happening in that family.

Then we talked about the abortion protester, and how much he glosses over when he waves his fetus sign.


LemmusLemmus said...

Are you prepared to say the boy would be better off if not alive? If you are not, I'm not sure it's such a powerful argument.

John Althouse Cohen said...

No, I'm not prepared to say that. But I think it's a factor to be considered along with all the other factors (including the pregnant woman's autonomy).

LemmusLemmus said...

Fair enough.

Trumpit said...

If the energies spent by people who protest abortions were channeled toward helping and feeding the plethora of hungry, homeless, and mistreated children in any random community, the world would be a much better place. If the anti-abortionist did anything contructive to save planet earth from an EXCESS of human earthlings, we'd all be better off. Their movement is a far bigger tragedy than most abortions are. I have little respect for them because of their bad, counter-productive behavior. Many are fanatics like the Taliban, a group that wants woman as veiled, uneducated sex slaves and baby machines. In my less tolerant moments -- the anti-abortion cult, like the Taliban blobs of flesh, know what intolerance is -- I wish that they had all been aborted, even if partially. They are only partial humans anyway. A big chunk of their humanity is sadly and sorely missing.

Unknown said...

If the energies spent by people who protest genocide, or murder, or rape, or fill in the blank for this stupid tripe.

If you believe that all or some of the of the aborted fetus / children are actually human beings, then all time spent trying to stop abortions is time well spent.

MattJ said...

The fact that seeing a mother angrily scold a 5 year old (and even slap him) in public leads you to believe that the child is unwanted, leads me to believe that you don't have any children.

Trumpit said...

"If the energies spent by people who protest genocide, or murder, or rape, or fill in the blank for this stupid tripe."

Let no one question my opposition to those bad things you mention. I think that they are worthy of protesting against, stopping and preventing. I also would respect you much more if you channelled your time and energies productively in that direction. As it is, I doubt I respect you one iota. This is my last comment in this thread. I won't engage in a fruitless discussion with a dogmatic, unthinking person who has no soul and should have been ...